Blessings of a do-over

When I describe my printing process to non-printmakers, I often stress that because I am using only one block, if I make a mistake or I don’t like something, I can’t go back. In truth, there are many times when I don’t like something, but I just continue and see if another color layer can make it look different.

I’m working on a new print that has clouds. I had originally wanted to carve the clouds in a sort of engraving style, where you could see my carving marks. Kind of like Gustave Baumann’s Malapi. Sadly I didn’t achieve this, as my clouds looked more like a dust-up of cute cottontails. But I couldn’t go back, so I began to carve the block for the next layer…and I carved away the wrong area.

At first, I could not speak. My mind whirled with strategies to fix my block…glue (?)  — this never works with linoleum.  Another block(?) —  it would be impossible to get everything to line up just right. I was sunk. I called my husband who very wisely said “I think that print was going somewhere. You should just start again.”

Start again? I had been working on the print for one and one-half weeks and had sunk materials costs, but he was right, the only thing to do was start again. With a deep breath I went and purchased more MDF, and he helped me cut a new block that afternoon.

A print in progress with new and improved clouds.

For my new clouds, I chose to use my rotary tool and some engraving bits. Four color layers later, and we are at this stage. The clouds are definitely an improvement over my previous attempt.

I recently gave a presentation about my work to a printmaking class at a local high school. I asked the students to write down (anonymous) comments for me. Several of the comments noted that they didn’t think they could do something so involved, so intricate, so difficult. I wondered if that was really true.  I am not one of those people who is tremendously artistically gifted. My work has progressed only because I continue to make prints – some of them worthy of framing and some worthy of being flipped over for test prints for the next block.

Time, patience, and the willingness to not give up are so much more important than raw talent. Everyone has to start somewhere. In my case it was a bright green Christmas card I created in my kitchen when I was 13. Luckily I remembered to carve the words backwards. Certainly I have improved since then.

Now it is time to hold my breath, and check my drawings carefully, so I carve away the right places. This print has taken much longer than I anticipated, but I am glad for the opportunity to improve.

5 Replies to “Blessings of a do-over”

  1. So true. I had to trash a solar plate last Friday because although I thought I had exposed it properly, nothing appeared after I washed it off. Disappointing, but that's one of the risks of printmaking. Cut our losses and we try again!

  2. So hard to do buy what a good move for to cut your loss and start again.

    So far, this looks fantastic and your clouds have an awesome "painterly" quality that makes me take my glasses off and squint my eyes and wonder "how DID she do that!!!??"

  3. Wonderful to see you mastering the new set of skills that you suddenly need when you start working large as you have. This print came out beautifully.

    I'm in complete agreement that "time, patience, and the willingness to not give up are so much more important than raw talent." That's certainly been true for me.

    Happy spring!

  4. I have developed a practice of writing down what went well (and what did not) for each print. I can go back now and see the ways I've learned and improved. Nothing like time to give you perspective.

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